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PIRATE UTOPIAS

And so, having followed our Corsairs' calendar through the social season -Winter -we return to Spring and the urge to set out once again roaming the open seas. I can't say that these scattered images of Renegado culture add up to anything like a hypothesis or a theory or even a very coherent picture. We've certainly had to use our imagination more than a “real” historian would allow, erecting a lot of suppositions on a shaky framework of generalizations, and adding a touch of fantasy (and what piratologist has ever been able to resist fantasy?). I can only say that I've satisfied my own curiosity at least to this extent: That something like a Renegado culture could have existed; that all the ingredients for it were present, and contiguous, and synchronic. Moreover, there exists good circumstantial evidence for this culture in what we might call its one great artifact-the Moorish Corsair Republic(s) of the Bou Regreg. Such an original concept would almost seem to depend on a depth of origin which can only be labelled “cultural”, i.e., sociologically complex, and self-involved enough to be called (and to call itself) different. The Mafia names itself “Our Thing”; the corsairs called their “thing” the Republic of Sale-not just a pirate hang-out or safe harbor, but a pirate utopia, a planned structure for a corsair society. Perhaps a kind of Franco or lingua franca might have emerged in Sale as in Algiers, though we have no evidence for it. But Sale had its own language of signs and institutions, of relations and ideas, of goods and peoples, which clearly coalesced into some identifiable social entity. Exiles-whether Jews, Moriscos, or European rogues-created a cross-cultural synergy (against a Moorish background) which can be identified as a new synthesis rather than simply a mishmash of styles. In our conclusion we shall try to analyze this culture as a patterns of conversions, of literal cross-cultural adventures, of translations.

As a preliminary move in this analysis, it might prove interesting to compare the political structure of the Triple Republic with other political structures. Two obvious comparisons spring to mind-first, the other Barbary states, especially Algiers; and second, other “pirate utopias” elsewhere in the world.

We've already noted that although Algiers never really attained independence from the Sublime Porte, it managed to concoct a bizarre sort of freedom for itself out of the shouting-matches in the Divan of the Ocak, the connivances of the pirate Taiffe, the sheer cowardice of various Ottoman bureaucrats, and-if all else failed-the “democracy of assassination”. The legislative structure of the Bou Regreg Republic was almost certainly modeled on that of the Algerian taiffe -in fact, at times the two bodies may have even shared members. But in Sale, the “Taiffe” ruled alone, as a Divan, without other power-sharing institutions as in Algiers. Apparently the Sale Divan, or rather Divans, were organized more democratically than the Algerian model. Grand Admirals were elected for one-year terms, as were the 14 or 16 captains of the assembly. Bureaucratic appointments were made-Customs and Excise, port officials, guardians of the peace (not a very efficient lot, one might surmise), etc.-but there was a clear and obvious intention to prevent political power from ossifying or even stabilizing to any significant degree. Clearly the Andalusians and corsairs liked to keep things fluid- even to the point of turbulence. All attempts to establish real control, at least in Rabat and the Casbah, were met with immediate violence.

May we surmise that this autonomy meant something more to the corsairs than merely a chance to maximize profits? In fact-was their brand of “perpetual revolution” really compatible with any serious proto-capitalist designs and ambitions? Wouldn't a monarchy (preferably a corrupt monarchy) have better served the purposes of simple fiscal aggrandizement? Isn't there something quixotic about the whole Bou Regreg phenomenon? With the possible exceptions of the Venetian or Dutch Republics of oligarchs, and the Taiffe of Algiers, the corsairs lacked any real-world models for their democratic experiment. [They might have known about the Uskoks, pirates who lived on islands off the Yugoslavian coast and preyed mostly on Moslem and Venetian shipping, and seem to have had a kind of egalitarian-tribal form of government. [See Bracewell, 1992]] But the idea of a republic was very much in the air-and by 1640 would emerge into European history with the revolutions in England, then America, then France. Was it just an accident of history that all this should be preceded by the Republic of Sale? Or should we re-write the historical sequence to read: Sale, England, America, France? An embarrassing thought, perhaps: Moorish pirates and renegade converts to Islam as the hidden forefathers of Democracy. Better not pursue it.

Later in the 17th and early in the 18th century, a number of independent “pirate utopias” came into being elsewhere in the world. The most famous of these were Hispaniola, where the Buccaneers created their own short-lived highly anarchic society; Libertatia, in Madagascar; Ranter's Bay, also in Madagascar; and Nassau, in the Bahamas, which was the last classical pirate utopia.

Most historians have failed to note the significance of the pirates' land enclaves, seeing them simply as resting-places between cruises. The notion of a pirate society is a contradiction in terms in most theories of history, whether Marxist or otherwise-but the Buccaneers of Hispaniola (modern Santo Domingo) constituted just such a society. Hispaniola was a sort of No Go Zone in the late 16th or early 17th century; the Native population had declined, and no European power held an effective claim. Shipwrecked sailors, deserters, runaway slaves and serfs (“Maroons”) and other dropouts began to find themselves in Hispaniola, free of all governance, and able to make a living of sorts as hunters. Feral cattle and pigs, descended from the herds of failed and vanished attempts at settlements, roamed the forest, along with wild game. Boucan or smoke-dried meat (a technique learned from the native Caribs) could be exchanged with passing ships for other merchandise. Here originated the “Brethren of the Coast”, quite conscious of their freedom and organized (minimally and egalitarianly) to preserve it. Later communities were founded in Tortuga and New Providence. The Buccaneers turned only gradually to piracy, and when they did so they banded together under “Articles” or ships' constitutions, some of them quoted by Exquemelin (the only eye-witness chronicler of the Buccaneers in their “golden age”). The Articles are almost the only authentic pirate documents in existence. They generally called for election of all officers except Ship's Quartermaster and other “artists” such as sailmaker, cook, or musician. Captains were elected and received as little as one-and-a-half or two times a crewman's share. Corporal punishment was outlawed, and disagreements even between officers and men were resolved at a drumhead court, or by the Code Duello. Sometimes a clause would be inserted by some dour Welsh pirate (like “Black Bart” Roberts) forbidding women and boys on board ship- but usually not. Liquor was never forbidden. Pirate ships were true republics, each ship (or fleet) an independent floating democracy.

The early Buccaneers lived a fairly idyllic life in the woods, a life marked by extremes of poverty and plenty, cruelty and generosity, and punctuated by desperate ventures to sea in leaky canoes and jury-rigged sloops. The Buccaneer way of life had an obvious appeal: interracial harmony, class solidarity, freedom from government, adventure, and possible glory. Other endeavors sprang up. Belize was first settled by Buccaneers. The town of Port Royal on Jamaica became their stomping ground; its haunted ruins can still be seen beneath the sea that drowned it whole in 1692. But even before this quietus of biblical proportions the Buccaneer life had already come to an end. The brilliant Henry Morgan, bold and lucky, rose to leadership, organized the amazing Buccaneer invasion of Panama in 1671-then took the Pardon along with an English appointment as Governor and High Judge, and returned to his old haunts as the executioner of his old comrades. It was certainly the end of an era; the surviving Buccaneers, cut adrift from permanent land bases, became pirates.

But the “golden age” dream lingered on: the sylvan idyll of Hispaniola became both a myth of origin, and a political goal. From now on, whenever the pirates had a chance, they would attempt the foundation of permanent or semi-permanent land enclaves. The ideal conditions included proximity to sea-lanes, friendly Natives (and Native women), seclusion and remoteness from all writ and reality of European power, a pleasant tropical climate, and perhaps a trading post or tavern where they could squander their booty. They were prepared to accept temporary leadership in a combat situation, but on shore they preferred absolute freedom even at the price of violence. In pursuit of booty, they were willing to live or die by radical democracy as an organizing principle; but in the enjoyment of booty, they insisted on anarchy. Some shore-enclaves consisted of nothing more than a hidden harbor, a beach where ships' hulls could be scraped, and a spring of clean water. Others were vicious little ports like Port Royal or Baltimore, run by “respectable” crooks like Thomas Crooke, who were simply parasites on piracy. But other enclaves can really only be called intentional communities-after all, they were intended, and they were communal and therefore can rightfully be considered as Pirate Utopias.

In the early 1700's the scene of action shifted from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean. Europe had begun its colonialist-imperialist relations with the “Near” East and India, but a great deal of territory remained “untamed”. The perfect location for land-enclaves proved to be Madagascar, conveniently located near the Islamic pilgrimage sea route to Arabia and Mecca. The famous Capt. Avery established a legend by scoring the imperial Moghul dhow on its way from India to the Hajj, winning a diamond the size of an egg, and “marrying” a Moghul princess; the diamond and other jewels were reputedly buried somewhere around or in Boston Harbor and have never been recovered. Other pirates had no desire to return to either America or Europe, and Madagascar looked promising. Neither Islam nor Christianity had penetrated the huge island, which remained tribal, pagan, and even “megalithicH in its hundreds of Native “kingdoms”. [For Megalithic practices in Madagascar, see Mohen, 1990: 55-58] Some tribes proved eager for alliances with the pirates, and some of the women too. The climate was ideal, a few trading posts were opened, and the concept of the Pirate Utopia was revived. In some cases an individual adventurer might “marry the king's daughter” or in some other way insinuate himself into Native society; in other cases a group of pirates would settle in their own village, near a friendly tribe, and work out their own social arrangements.

One such utopia was founded at “Ranter's Bay”-a place-name which, as C. Hill points out, lends some credence to the assumption that radical antinomian sects may have found adherents amongst the pirates [Hill, 1985l. according to Daniel Defoe's The King of the pirates (1720), Capt. Avery himself settled for a while in Madagascar as a “mock-king”. Hill points out that “Defoe stressed the libertarian aspects of Avery's settlement. 'In a free state, as we were, everybody was free to go wherever they would.”' [ibid. p. 178] Another Madagascar settlement was made by one Capt. North and his crew. But without a doubt the most interesting and the most famous of the Madagascar utopias-certainly the most otopi(zll-was “Libertatia” (or Libertalia).

Our only source for Libertatia and its founder Capt. Mission is a book written by Daniel Defoe, under the pen-name “Captain Charles Johnson”, The General History of the Pyrates (1724-28). It is not a work of fiction, and a great deal of it can be supported by archival material, but it is clearly meant as a popular work, long on color and excitement, short on documentation. Defoe claimed to have derived all his information about Libertatia from a “Mission MS” in his possession. According to Defoe, this was the tale told by the manuscript:

Youngest son of an ancient Provencal family, Mission leaves home at 15 to study at the military academy at Angiers, then volunteers for service aboard a French man-of-war in the Mediterranean. While on leave in Rome he meets a “lewd” Dominican priest named Caraccioli who has lost his faith and decides to ship out with Mission. In a battle with a pirate, both are distinguished by their bravery. Gradually Caraccioli converts Mission to atheism and communism, or rather to “perfect Deism”.

Then, in a fight with an English ship, the French captain and officers are killed. Caraccioli nominates Mission for the captaincy, and both men deliver long speeches to the crew, persuading them of their revolutionary designs (and mentioning Alexander the Great, Henry IV and VII of England, and “Mahomet”, as figures of inspiration!) They persuade the crew to found a “new marine republic.” “Every man is born free, and has as much right to what will support him as to the air he respires.”

The bo'sun Mathew le Tonder suggests flying the black flag (the so-called Jolly Roger) as their standard-but Caraccioli objects, saying “they were no pirates but men who were resolved to effect the Liberty which God and Nature gave them.” He makes reference to “Peoples' Rights and Liberties,” “shaking the yoak of tyranny,” the “misery of oppression and poverty.” “Pirates were men of no principle and led dissolute lives; but their Iives were to be brave, just, and innocent.” For their emblem they choose a white ensign with the motto “For God and Liberty.” (All this sounds more like Deism than “Atheism”, but in the early 18th century the terms were still virtually interchangable.)

Mission and the crew now engage in a series of successful attacks on ships, taking as booty only what they need, then letting them go free. Episodes of chivalry and kindness alternate with courage and violence. Off the coast of Africa they capture a Dutch slaver; Mission makes another long speech to the crew, arguing “that the Trading for those of our own Species, cou'd never be agreeable to the Eyes of divine Justice. That no Man had Power of the Liberty of another; and while those who profess a more enlightened Knowledge of the Deity, sold Men like Beasts; they prov'd that their Religion was no more than a Grimace!” Mission goes on to say that he, for one, “had not exempted his Neck from the galling Yoak of Slavery, and asserted his own Liberty, to enslave others,” and he urges the sailors to accept the Africans as fellow crewmen-which they do.

Some time afterwards they settle down on the island of Johanna in the Indian Ocean, where Mission marries the daughter of “the local dusky queen,” and the crew also find wives. For a few years Mission continues to make speeches, rob ships, and occasionally-when forced by circumstances-to slaughter his enemies. (As Lord Byron put it, Mission “was the mildest manner'd man/ That ever scuttled ship or cut a throat.”) [Quoted by Gosse, 1924: 218]

Mission now decides on a venture in intentional community, and moves his people to Madagascar. [According to Course (1966), Libertatia was located near the NE tip of the island in Diego Suarez harbor or Antsirana.] Here they begin to construct a purely socialist society in which private property is abolished and all wealth held in a common treasury. No hedges separate the pirates' plots of land. Docks and fortifications are built, and two new ships, Childhood and Liberty, are sent to map the coast. A Session House is built, and Mission is elected “Lord Conservator” for a three-year term. The elected Assembly meets once a year, and nothing of moment can be undertaken without its approval. The laws are printed and distributed, as “they had some printers and letterformers among them.” The English pirate Capt. Tew is Admiral of the Fleet, Caraccioli is Secretary of State, and the Council consists of the ablest pirates “without distinction of nation or colour.” A new language is invented, a melange of French, English, Dutch, Portuguese, etc. This progressive regime fails to satisfy a few extreme radicals (including Capt. Tew), who break away to found their own settlement, based on pure anarchism—no laws, no officers. For a number of years (the Manuscript seems to have been vague about chronology) the Pirate Utopia flourished. When it finally fails it is not by fault of inner contradictions but of outside aggression: a tribe of unfriendly Natives attacks, the settlers put off to sea in their ships, and are destroyed by a freak hurricane.

Defoe himself lived during the last heyday of piracy, and much of his information derived from interviews with pirates imprisoned in London. A great many of his readers would have known a great deal about late 17th and early 18th century piracy, if only from news pamphlets and gallows ballads. As far as I can see, however, no contemporary reader ever questioned the reality of Capt. Mission. Despite the fact that Defoe's two chapters on Mission read like pages out of Rousseau-or Byron! (neither of whom were yet born)- and despite the fact that Libertatia's politics were in some ways far more radical than the politics of revolutionary America (1776) or France (1793)-or even Russia (1917), for that matter-despite all this, no one in 1728 blew the whistle on “Captain Johnson” or accused him of inventing Mission's story out of thin air. The material was believed, presumably, because it was inherently believable. Of course plenty of people believed in Lemuel Gulliver and Baron Munchhausen too; one cannot prove anything on the basis of popular belief; nevertheless, Capt. Mission was accepted as a fact until 1972.

In that year a new edition of the General History was prepared by Manuel Schonhorn (1972). In the introduction to this work, the reality of Capt. Mission was vigorously attacked on two main counts. First, negative evidence: no corroborating archival material exists (of course, it could have disappeared). Much more damning, however, was the problem of Capt. Tew. Plenty of archival and historical material exists on Tew, and there is no doubt of his existence-but the material shows that Tew could not have been in Madagascar long enough to carry out his role in the story of Libertatia. On this basis it was concluded that Mission's story is a fiction, a sort of Robinson Crusoe-type hoax, embedded in an otherwise historical (or more-or-less historical) text. The purpose of the hoax was to make radical Whig agit-prop. No “Mission MS” ever existed. Libertatia was a literal utopia: it was “nowhere”!

We must admit that the Tew problem casts the Mission narrative in a somewhat apocryphal light; however, I believe that the verdict of nonexistence is forced and over-hasty. Several other logical possibilities should be considered: (a) Mission existed and the Manuscript existed, but contained misinformation about Capt. Tew (perhaps the name Tew was used to mask someone else), which Defoe uncritically accepted; (b) the Manuscript existed and described real events, but Defoe himself invented the episodes concerning Tew (including the “anarchist” schism) for reasons of his own, perhaps to flesh out a sparse narrative; © the Manuscript never existed, nor did any persons named Mission or Caraccioli-but some experiment like Libertatia actually occured in Madagascar, and was thinly fictionalized by Defoe (Robinson Crusoe had a real-life model in Alexander Selkirk, a genuine castaway survivor). “Johnson” added the name of a real pirate, Tew, to pump up the verisimilitude of the text, failing to realize that he was thereby giving the game away to future historians. None of these hypotheses can be proven or disproven on the basis of the Tew problem. Therefore the Revisionist Debunking Hypothesis - complete fictionalization - must also remain unproven. The mere passion for debunking should not be allowed to push us into abandoning the solid historicity of a revolutionary hero or a real utopia. [See, for example, the preface to Burroughs, 1981; also Law, 1980] Ranter's Bay was real enough, and so were the “Kingdoms” carved out in Madagascar by the “halfbreed” children of the pirates. [See Deschamps, 1949, esp. pp. 215-229] The Buccaneers were real, and so were the wild crew at Nassau in the Bahamas (including Blackbeard, and “Calico Jack” Rackham and his two pirate wives, Ann Bonney and Mary Reade), which flourished for a few years in the early 1700's. Libertatia could have been real, and should have been real; this much will suffice for the admirers of Capt. Mission. Christopher Hill, for one, refuses to accept Mission as pure fiction. Hill points out that although Defoe was a fire-breathing radical as a youth, he had become a hack by the 1720's, and a supporter of bourgeois property values. “This is what makes the fairness of his description of Libertatia so remarkable. This would be surprising if he had invented the whole thing, less so if he had been listening to old sailors' tales and saw the possibility of using Libertatia to criticize aspects of capitalist society which offended him.” [op. cit., p. 179]

However, assuming for the sake of argument that the Mission chapters of the General History are at least as fictionalized as Robinson Crusoe, an interesting question arises. Defoe, it seems, knew rather a lot about the Republic of Sale. In the first few chapters of Robinson Crusoe the hero is captured by “Sally Rovers” and then taken to Morocco to be sold. As with St. Vincent de Paul and the Sieur Mouette Robinson discovers that his Moorish master is not such a bad chap: he offers the English sailor a chance to escape slavery by converting to Islam. Crusoe, however, decides to attempt escape, and eventually succeeds in stealing a small boat. He is accompanied by a winsome young Morisco boy, with whom he shares no language-a clear foreshadowing of Friday, the beloved companion. Defoc, it seems, could have used Sale as a partial moodel for Libertatia.

However, the comparison cannot be stretched too far. Sale was undoubtedly more libertarian than the Barbary Coast states of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, but it certainly had far more conventional structure than any of the pure Pirate Utopias. The pirates of Sale clearly decided to accept a republican form of government (and the 10% tax) in order to safeguard their liberties on a (hopefully) permanent basis; Sale can be seen as a sort of compromise.

It would appear that they did this deliberately and consciously, although without any ideological/ intellectual framework other than a hatred of European class oppression, and an admiration (or at least acceptance) of Islam. The so-called “democratic” aspects of Islam may have facilitated the emergence of Sale's unique experiment, but cannot fully account for it (since Islamic governments elsewhere were all monarchic). Protestant extremism (with its denial of all worldly “magistry” or government) may have been a factor-but not enough of a factor to save the Renegadoes from apostasy! Without any texts from Sale it's impossible to say for certain- but it looks as if the Bou Regreg Republic might have been the direct creation of the Andalusian Moriscos and European Renegadoes, with (perhaps) a bit of inspiration from certain Sufis-a genuine act of spontaneous political genius.

When the Renegadoes disappeared, they left behind them no “issue”-no obvious permanent trace of their existence. In Madagascar the pirates' “half-breed” children created a new culture, but in North Africa the converts and their descendants were simply absorbed into the general population. Their influence on European civilization seems to be nil, or even less than nothing: like relatives who have disgraced themselves, they are not mentioned-not just forgotten, but deliberately forgotten. They did nothing to shift the border of Islamdom toward the West despite their centuries of jihad. They created no distinctive art forms, and left behind not one page of “literature”. A few names, a few anecdotes of cruelty…the rest has vanished. Despite the sheer anomalous mystery of their existence-thousands of 17th century European converts to Islam!-they have received almost no attention from analytical or interpretive historians; they have aroused no curiosity amongst historians of religion; they have faded to insignificance, almost to invisibility.

Pirates, apostates, traitors, degenerates, heretics- what positive meaning could possibly be expected to emerge from such a dire combination? Must we simply confess to a fascination with the perverse? After all, this constitutes the real motive of the piratologist despite all protestations of shocked moral outrage, does it not? Not to mention the heresologist!

To answer this objection I would just point out (as indeed I've maintained elsewhere, e.g. Wilson, 1991, introduction) that heresy is a means of cultural transfer. When a religion from one culture penetrates another culture, it frequently does so (at least initially) as “heresy”; only later do the Orthodox Authorities arrive to straighten everyone out and make them toe the line. Thus, for example, early Celtic Christianity absorbed a great deal of Druidry, and was seen from Rome as “heretical”. In the process, not only was Christian culture introduced into Ireland, but Celtic culture was also introduced (more surreptitiously) into Christianity, or rather, into Christian European culture. A cultural transfer occurred, and this cross-cultural synergy added up to something new-something which produced (for instance) the Book of Kells. Spain during the Moorish Era represents a culture based on three-way transfers amongst Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditions, especially in such “heretical” fields as alchemy (or poetry!). Alchemy as a “heresy” transferred Greek science intO Renaissance Christendom, via Islam. And so on, and so forth.

Apostasy can be considered as a special case of “heresy”. And in the case of the Renegadoes, one very obvious area of cultural transfer consists of maritime technology. We can assume that not only did the Renegadoes introduce “round ships” and advanced metallurgy to Islamdom, they may also have introduced Islamic navigational mathematics and devices like the astrolabe to European mariners. This permeable boundary between “East” and “West” was most apparent in Moorish Spain, where mutual osmosis eventually generated a Columbus; and the process undoubtedly continued into the 17th century. We should be careful not to interpret this technical transfer as devoid of all spiritual significance- remember that Jewish Captain from Smyrna who was deemed a wizard for his navigational skills. The mariner's trade was a mystery, and the sailor (like the desert nomad) a man of suspect orthodoxy.

We have speculated that 17th century mariners shared more than the secrets of a craft-they may have shared certain clandestine ideas as well: the idea of democracy, for example, or for that matter the idea of spiritual freedom, of freedom from “Christian Civilization” and all its miseries. If Islamophiliac notions circulated amongst educated Masons, why not also amongst a 'masonry of poor mariners? From ship to ship in whispers a rumor was circulated, a tale of the Barbary Coast, where wealth and “Moorish nieces” were to be won by the brave-by those few free spirits bold enough to renounce Christianity. If we have no written record of this “conspiracy”, we may also ask what documents ever emerge from an oral and non-literate (sub)culture? We need no texts because we have proof of conspiracy in the otherwise-inexplicable historical fact of thousands of conversions, not only voluntary but emphatic; we have the evidence, in fact, of mass apostasy.

Here then we are given an example not only of heresy as a means of cultural transfer, but also (and even more interesting) heresy as a means of social resistance. And it is here (as I've already implied) that I find the “meaning” of the Renegadoes and their lost world. It's true that this theoria or “vision” of the pirates must be suspect as a prolongation of my own particular subjectivity- and even as a “Romantic” prolongation, to be sure. But it's also true that no subjectivity is entirely unique. If I make bold to interpret the Renegadoes' experience, it's because in some sense I recognize it. Every history comprises in some degree a “history of the present” (as Foucault says), and perhaps even more so, a history of the self. But “every history” is not therefore to be deemed devoid of “objectivity” or to be merely subjective and romantic.

I think I recognize the Renegadoes because somehow they too are “present”. When Col. Qaddafi and the Irish Republican Army are accused of collusion and gunrunning, would it be misleading to mention the old, old Atlantean connection between Celts and North Africans? Just as the European Consensus of the 17th century denounced such conspiracy as treason and apostasy, so our modern media dismiss it as “terrorism”. We are not used to looking at history from the terrorist's point of view, that is, from the point of view of moral struggle and revolutionary expropriation. In our modern consensus view, the moral right of killing and stealing (war and taxes) belongs only to the State; even more specifically, to the rational, secular, corporate State. Those who are irrational enough to believe in religion (or revolution) as a reason for action in the world are “dangerous fanatics.” Clearly not much has changed since the 1600's. On the one hand, we have society; on the other hand, resistance.

The 17th century knew no such thing as a secular ideology. Neither States nor individuals justified their actions by philosophical appeals to science, sociology, economics, “natural rights”, or “dialectical materialism”. Virtually all social constructs were predicated on religious values, or (at least) expressed in religious language. As for the ideology of Christian monarcho-imperialism—or for that matter the ideology of Islamic piracy-we are free to interpret both as mere window-dressing, hypocritical verbiage, sheer hypocrisy, or even hallucination; but this is to reduce history to a psychology of rape and plunder, devoid of all thought and intention. The influence of “ideas” on “history” remains problematical and even mysterious-especially when we hypostatize such vague complexities as categories or even as absolutes; but it does not follow from this that we can say nothing meaningful about ideas or about history. At the very least we must admit that ideas have histories.

History has tended to view the Renegadoes' story as meaningless, as a mere glitch in the smooth and inevitable progress of European culture toward world domination. The pirates were uneducated, poor, and marginalized-and hence (it is assumed) they could have had no real ideas or intentions. They are seen as insignificant particles swept away from the mainstream of history by a freakish eddy or swirl of exotic irrationality. Thousands of conversions to the faith of the Other mean nothing; centuries of resistance to European-Christian hegemony mean nothing. Not one of the texts I've read on the subject even mentioned the possibility of intentionality and resistance, much less the notion of a “Pirate Utopia”. The idea of the “positive shadow” of Islam is an ad hoc pro tem category I constructed in order to try to understand the enigma of apostasy; no historian (as far as I know) has ever posited a connection between the intellectual Islamophilia of Rosicrucianism and the Enlightenment, and the bizarre phenomenon of the Renegadoes. No one has ever interpreted their conversion to Islam as a kind of ultimate form of Ranterism, or even as a means of escape from (and revenge upon) a civilization of economic and sexual misery-from a smug Christianity based on slavery, repression, and elite privilege. Renegado apostasy as self-expression-mass apostasy as class expression-the Renegadoes as a kind of proto-proletarian “vanguard”-such concepts as these have no existence outside this book-and even I hesitate to advance them as anything more than quaint hypotheses. The “vanguard” failed, the Renegadoes vanished, and their incipient culture of resistance evaporated with them. But their experience was not meaningless, nor do they deserve to be buried in oblivion. Someone should salute their insurrectionary fervor, and their “temporary autonomous zone” on the banks of the Bou Regreg river in Morocco. Let this book serve as their monument; and through it let the Renegadoes re-enter the uneasy dreams of civilization.

 

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